• SHARE

Regional Special: Chubu>Sekigahara to mark 400th anniversary of epic battle> Staff writer SEKIGAHARA, Gifu Pref. — For most of the world, next year is a celebration of the new millennium. For Japan, it is also the 400th anniversary of the Battle of Sekigahara — perhaps the most famous internal battle and the largest clash of warriors in the nation’s history. It laid the political groundwork for the following 260 years of the Edo Period, the precursor to modern Japan. In this small town of 9,500 people, some 150,000 samurai fought this crucial battle on Sept. 15, 1600, according to the ancient Chinese calendar. Sekigahara and nearby municipalities are ready to celebrate the 400th anniversary with a range of events next year. To correspond with Oct. 12, the date of the battle in the modern calendar, the main events of the anniversary are scheduled for three days beginning Oct. 7. On the evening of Oct. 7, a memorial service for those who died in the fighting will be held at the foot of Mount Sasao, where Ishida Mitsunari, who led the western force of about 90,000 warriors, set his base. Those who claim to be descendants of the Sekigahara warriors — about 100 people across the country have stepped forward — have been invited to attend the service. According to Sekigahara official Katsuhiro Kodama, there are more descendants of the western force than the eastern force, which was led by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who eventually established the Tokugawa shogunate three years after his side won the battle. However, none of Tokugawa’s descendants have yet come forward, Kodama said. The main event on Oct. 8 is a re-enactment of the battle by 1,500 people, a hundredth of the original number. Dressed in armor and helmets, participants will take up the original positions where the warlords and warriors established their bases. After gathering at an elementary school near Mount Sasao, they will demonstrate how the campaign was fought, including firing harquebuses, and how the eastern troops won after some of the western warlords betrayed their side. The municipal government will invite participants to get involved in the events next year. Sekigahara was a political as well as a military battle. The feudal Warring States Period, which started with the Onin Revolution in 1467, came to an end with political unification, carried out by Oda Nobunaga and his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, by the end of the 16th century. But when Hideyoshi died in 1598 and his son, Hideyori, assumed his empire, Ieyasu saw this as the opportunity to replace the Toyotomi reign with his own, after serving under both Hideyoshi and Nobunaga. By political maneuvering, Ieyasu extended his power in the Toyotomi regime. At 58, Ieyasu, at the time of the battle, was the oldest surviving warlord from Nobunaga’s era and held one of the largest power bases in the Kanto region. Ishida Mitsunari was Hideyoshi’s top administrator and his loyal retainer. But Mitsunari had only a small power base near Lake Biwa — less than one-tenth that of Ieyasu’s. He criticized Ieyasu’s apparent misbehavior after Hideyoshi’s death and strove to defend the Toyotomi regime. Although Mitsunari managed to secure support from more warlords in terms of the number of warriors than Ieyasu’s side, many were anxious about siding with him. On the initial day, the battle went in favor of Mitsunari’s western troops, but because less than half his 90,000 warriors were actually fighting, his side was pushed back as time went on. It was the betrayal by Kobayakawa Hideaki, Hideyoshi’s nephew, who turned his 15,000 warriors against Mitsunari, that turned the tide in favor of Ieyasu later in the day. In the end, Ieyasu’s troops outfought their western counterparts. Mitsunari was captured and later beheaded in Kyoto. Throughout the Edo Period that started with Ieyasu’s establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603, Mitsunari was regarded as an evil loser. A special exhibition at the Sekigahara History and Folk Museum starting Jan. 4 aims to re-examine and re-evaluate Mitsunari and his western force based on unofficial materials. For nearly a year until Dec. 27, 2000, the museum will hold the special exhibition to offer visitors an opportunity to think more deeply about the battle, including why it was fought at Sekigahara and why Hideaki betrayed his own side. “Throughout history, Mitsunari was always given low marks because of his defeat. The special exhibition will try to show the other side of the story, with materials such as copied letters,” curator Masashige Takagi said. “During the event, the museum will not have a single day off. It is the biggest chance for us to promote the town and the museum since its was opened in 1982,” he said. The museum usually has around 30,000 visitors annually, but Takagi expects between 100,000 and 200,000 during 2000. An exhibition on the battle will also run from March 25 to Oct. 9 in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, about 13 km west of Sekigahara. City officials say Ogaki was the place where the battle really started, because the main western force, including Mitsunari’s troops, stayed at Ogaki Castle for three weeks until the night of Sept. 14. The main attraction of the exhibition in Ogaki Park will be a pavilion on NHK’s saga “Three Generations of Tokugawa,” which will be broadcast throughout next year. Visitors can experience the campaign with lights, film and sound, the officials said, adding that they expect 600,000 visitors.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW